Page images
PDF
EPUB

from Italy, though not so great as this of religion ; yet a great deal greater than many good men can well bear. For commonly they come home, common contemners of marriage, and ready persuaders of all others to the same; not because they love virginity, nor yet because they hate pretty young virgins, but being free in Italy to go whithersoever lust will carry them, they do not like that law and honesty should be such a bar to their liberty at home in England. And yet they be the greatest makers of love, the daily dalliers with such pleasant words, with such smiling and secret countenances, with such signs, tokens, wagers, purposed to be lost before they were purposed to be made, with bargains of wearing colours, flowers, and herbs, to breed occasion of after meeting of him and her, and bolder talking of this and that, &c. And although I have seen some, innocent of all ill, and staid in all honesty, that have used these things without all harm, without all suspicion of harm; yet these knacks were brought first into England by them, that learned thein before in Italy in Circe's court ; and how courtly courtesies so ever they be counted now, yet if the meaning and manners of some that do use them were somewhat amended, it were no great hurt, neither to themselves, nor to others.

Another property of these our English Italians is, to be marvellous singular in all their matters; sin

gular in knowledge, ignorant of nothing; so singular in wisdom (in their own opinion) as scarce they count the best councellor the prince hath, compara'ble with them: common discoursers of all matters, busy searchers of most secret affairs, open flatterers of great men, privy mislikers of good men; fair speakers with smiling countenances, and much courtesy openly to all men ; ready backbiters, sore nippers, and spiteful reporters privily of good men. And being brought up in Italy in some free city, as all cities be there; where a man may freely discourse against what he will, against whom he lust, against any prince, against any government, yea, against God himself, and his whole religion; where he must be either Guelph or Gibiline; either French or Spanish ; and always compelled to be of some party, of some faction, he shall never be compelled to be of any religion. And if he meddle not over much with Christ's true religion, he shall have free liberty to embrace all religions, and become if he lust, at once, without any let or punishment, Jewish, Turkish, Papish, and Devilish.

A young gentleman thus bred up in this goodly school, to learn the next and ready way to sin, to have à busy head, a factious heart, a talkative tongue, fed with discoursing of factions, led to contemn God and his religion, shall come home into Eng= jand but very ill taught, either to be an honest man

himself, a quiet subject to his prince, or willing to serve God, under the obedience of true doctrine, or within the order of honest living.

In stating the consequences of the translation from the Italian poets and novelists, the reasonings of Ascham savour strongly of the puritanical notions of his times. They are the arguments rather of a calvinistic preacher, than of a polite and elegant scholar. The books alluded to, were the works of Boccace, consisting of poems and novels; of Petrarca and other Italian novelists. These compositions not being made up entirely of romantic adventures, had various scenes of real life and of manners; and though they dealt in fictitious stories, those stories consisted of probable events.

They gave birth to numerous plays, poems, and other inventions on a simi, lar plan; and usurped the plan of legends and chronicles.

The character of the Epistles is thus given by bishop Nicholson.

“ These letters (says he) have chiefly, on account of their elegancy, had several editions. The author was some

time an instructor in the Latin tongue, and afterwards Latin secretary to king Edward VI. quecn Mary, and queen Elizabeth; and in this latter station, was frequently employed to translate several letters of the then English ministers of state, to foreign princes, ambassadors, and other great men.

In these we have all the fine variety of language that is proper, either for rendering a petition or complaint the most agreeable, and withal a very great choice of historical matter that is hardly preserved any where else. Together with the author's own letters, we have a good many that are directed to him, both from the most eminent foreigners of his time, such as Sturmius, Sleidan, &c. and the best scholars, as well as the wisest statesmen of his own country. And the publisher of these assures us, that he had the perusal of a vast number of others in the English tongue, which were highly valuable. His attendance on sir Richard Morrison, in his German embassy, gave him an intimate acquaintance with the affairs of that country ; and the extraordinary freedom and familiarity with which the two sister queens treated him here at home, afforded him a perfect knowledge of the most secret mysteries of state in

this kingdom; so that, were the rest of his papers retrieved, we could not perhaps have a more pleasing view of the main urcana of those reigns that his writings would give us.”

Of the various editions of these letters which have been printed, the last and best is that of Oxford, in 1703, published by Mr. Elstob, who has added from MSS. many letters, not in the former editions; but has omitted Ascham's Poems, inserted in the rest.

Another work of our author's is mentioned by Wood, intitled, Apologia contra Missam, &c. i. e. An Apology against the Mass, said to be printed in 1577, in 8vo. There is still another ascribed to him, intitled, De Imitatione, included in the last edition of his letters.

In 1761, a new and complete edition of his English works was published by Mr. James Bennet, to which his Life is prefixed by Dr, Johnson. In this edition are to be found, some letters never before printed.

His works have, perhaps, been less read than their merit deserves. It has been observed, in respect of his literary habits, that “ he lost no time in the perusal of mcan or unprofitable books;" a rule which merits the

« PreviousContinue »